Answers at the Press of a Button

AUG 27, 2018

By David Ishmael – Director IT Operations Analytics at Trace3

Most people already know that Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company, one of the largest automakers in the world, and revolutionized the auto industry by introducing mass production.  You may not know that Ford lacked a formal education, which was uncommon during the early 1900’s, especially for a thriving businessman. This alone put a target on Ford’s back; however, Ford was also not a proponent of the ongoing war, openly disagreeing with Woodrow Wilson on sending US troops. Ford’s stance on the war did not sit well with prominent leaders. The Chicago Tribune, a major news outlet at the time and a staunch supporter of the war, was quick to attack Ford on his education and anti-war position.

The Tribune printed an article calling Ford an ignorant anarchist, to which Ford took obvious offense. So much so that Ford sued the Tribune for libel to the amount of $1M (roughly $18M today).  During the heated fourteen-week trial, the Tribune lawyers would ask Ford random history and philosophy questions to emphasize his lack of formal education. At one point, Ford wittily states, “should I need to know any answer for the business I have devoted my life, I merely need to press the right button from a row of buttons on my desk to summon an aid who can provide the answer I seek.” Ford believed that cluttering one’s mind with generalized knowledge was pointless when there were others that already had that knowledge.

More Problems, More People

Fast forward more than 100 years and business leaders still expect there to be a row of buttons on their desk. At any given moment, an executive wants to push a button and obtain an answer about the business. The executives do not want the minutia but specific insights about their business. They do not care that an application is degraded. Instead, they want to know the impact to the business, what caused the issue, and how that issue can be remediated or even prevented in the future. Ultimately, executives want to make accurate and meaningful decisions firmly grounded in data.

However, businesses have become significantly more complex than during Ford’s time. Ford could push a button on his desk and instantly glean the current state of the business. He might want to know why production numbers are low or why the error rate is high in the automation process; however, the proliferation of technology has created an ocean of data that is reminiscent of the proverbial needle in a haystack, obfuscating the ability to quickly obtain the answers we seek.

In Ford’s time, he would simply hire more people or replace people with those having the skill he needed to answer the question. Leveraging more people on the front line of business to interpret the increase in today’s plethora of data has reached an inflection point where there is a diminishing return. Each person can only read a finite number of logs and events per second.

In light of this monumental task to provide immediate answers at the push of a button, vendors have begun to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques in novel ways. Consider this scenario, you have an application that is degraded in some way. This is visible in a real-time graph within a UI [hopefully] being monitored by an engineer. Next to that graph, there is another graph showing an increase in database response time. Side-by-side, the time series nature of the graphs allows you to visually correlate that the database, as a resource for the application, is likely causing the degraded state of the application.

The Age of IT Operations Analytics (ITOA)

That was fine years ago and would most likely result in a database administrator scrutinizing the database for answers (assuming it was being watched in the first place). However, that only points to a possible symptom and not the actual cause. There is also a lack of a viable remedy for the problem. In the worse possible outcome, the problem cannot be identified by the database administrator. The misdiagnoses of the problem could result in the organization acquiring more hardware such as disk or memory in an effort to improve the database response time. However, this is only addressing the symptom, not the problem.

If we use a modern ITOA platform such as Extrahop, we can do a deeper analysis on the communication between the application and database to identify that the underlying cause of the issue was a poorly written query. This focuses the remediation effort back to the application developers to fix the actual cause of the problem. Since the database administrator did not have to hunt down the issue, the mean time to resolve this performance issue has been significantly decreased. The business also avoided putting capital towards the symptom (i.e. database) instead of the lower cost code correction (i.e. application database query).

While that is certainly a contrived example, it illustrates what the market is expecting and where vendors are going with their products. Today’s technologies are capturing data in greater volume (say goodbye to heavy-handed filtering), using proven techniques and concepts borrowed from big data, and giving rise to insights that go beyond pointing fingers (reducing the mean time to innocence). At the press of a button, business leaders are expecting answers and IT Operations must transform in how they react to those inquires.

How will you answer the call when the business pushes your button?


Our approach to ITOA at Trace3 is to enable businesses to transform their operational environments by leveraging next generation analytics platforms. We help you navigate the rapidly evolving and shifting ecosystem to develop a strategy aligned to your business objectives designing a secure, efficient, and cost-effective solution.

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